Tuesday, May 31, 2011

MS-170 - Coast the Coast - Team Verizon Fios

The Motivation

I've been wanting to participate in a charity ride for some time.  The opportunity came knocking when my wife attended a talk given by Jim Stratos, one of her co-workers at Verizon.  Jim was recruiting for Team Verizon Fios, the company supported MS cycling team.  The team riders raise funds which are matched by the company.  When I learned I could join the team I jumped at the chance.  Thanks to the kindness and generosity of friends I quickly met, and exceeded the fund raising requirement.  The fact that our neighbor, a working mother, is diagnosed with MS would give the ride extra meaning for me.
Team Verizon Fios 2011
The Logistics

The Coast to Coast edition of the MS rides is a 170 mile two-day venture to Cape May, the southernmost point of the state.  The start is set at Monmouth University in Long Branch.  An overnight stop is scheduled at a school in the Pinelands.  The National MS Foundation takes care of the riders' needs throughout the event.  Bag transport, bus transportation back to the starting point, and to hotels for the overnight are provided.  Food and water is available all along the route at rest stops and at the finish location.  The folks organizing the event seem to have thought of everything. 

It occurred to me that being in Cape May, with my bike, was an opportunity to log some additional miles by riding back to the starting point.  I added a second overnight to my itinerary by reserving a nearby motel room in Cape May.  I would leave Monday morning at 5:00am for the final leg.  Also, I thought it might be more of an adventure to do the three days of riding on the fixed gear bike.  To make it all work out I needed to pack everything for the three days in one backpack.  During the 170 mile trip to Cape May the MS volunteers would transport my bag to the overnight and the finish.  Once re-claimed at Cape May I would have to wear the pack on the ride home.  In the interests of keeping the weight down I would only allow myself essential items. 

The Start

Being more used to the small crowds at Randonnuering events I was amazed at all the people and bikes amassed around Monmouth College when I arrive at 7:00am.  Coincidentally, my friend, and fellow Team Verizon member, Todd, is parked in the next spot.  Todd, a fellow rando rider, is riding the first 85 mile leg to the Pinelands, which was one of the ride options.  His girlfriend Leslie, a member of another team, would be riding both days.  I check in at the Team Verizon table and collect my rider number and a very spiffy team jersey from Jim.  After which, I drop my pack off to be transported to the overnight stop.  I ready my bike and line up with Todd and Leslie for the 8:00am start.  Todd informs me there are 1800 people participating in a variety of ride options ranging from 25 miles to the 170 mile Coast to Coast.  Once the go signal is given, with the cutting of a tape, we are off.  It takes awhile for the mass of cyclists to get through the starting gate and out of the university.

The team gathers at the start

Todd (center) ready to go

Day One

Team Trane is Leslie's team.  They are well represented among the masses in those first few miles, including a couple on a tandem.  With all of the riders around it's difficult to stay together.  After the crossing of a pedestrian bridge, which riders must dismount for, I lose sight of my two riding companions.  I'm not sure if they are ahead or behind me.  I ride my normal pace assuming I'll run into them again. 
Team Trane has one of very few tandems on the ride
We head south towards Tom's River going through the shore towns of Bay Head, Mantoloking, Normandy Beach, and Seaside Heights.  I'm mostly riding alone, but a few riders have latched on to my rear wheel here and there.  So far I've not fallen into a specific group.  We cross over the bridge leaving Tom's River.  I come across a rider who falls into step as I'm going by.  His name is Dave.  He tells me he was riding with a group that was too fast and he's now feeling pretty fried.  I learn it is his first time on an organized ride.  He admits he's just learned a valuable lesson about pacing.  I invite him to follow in my draft for as long as he wants.  There is a rest stop at mile 49, which is listed as the lunch stop.  We agree to stop there for food and water.  Upon stopping I can feel how warm it has gotten.  We are early arrivers at Pine Creek School, there are only a handful of other riders in.  Dave agrees to keep the stop brief so we eat quickly, re-fill water, and head out.
Dave, former Mayor of Lacy Township
Back on the road Dave tells me he is the former Mayor of Lacy Township, which we are about to pass through.  True enough, once we enter the town he says hello to anyone who happens to be out of doors.  Actually, calling them by name.  His memory is impressive.  After a brief run south on US 9 we turn off to head into the northern part of the Pine Barrens region.  The riding through this area is pleasant with light traffic and there is a bit of a tail wind assist.  At the 65 mile point Dave begins to falter a bit.  I give him one of my Hammer Gels hoping it will perk him up.  It helps only briefly.  We hit a section with some mild rolling hills where he visibly begins to fade.  He is clearly struggling, slowing considerably.  I feel bad, but I think it will be kinder for me to let him fall back, then to try to nudge him along for the next 20 miles, possibly pushing him beyond the pace he needs to stick to.  On a long gentle incline he drops  out of sight.  I hope to see him at the finish.
Scott, a fellow fixed gear rider
I pass by one of the last rest stops, not opting to stop, as a rider is just pulling out.  He catches up to me asking what gearing I'm running.  I see he is also riding a fixed gear.  My gearing is at 69 inches.  He informs me he's running  a 74 inch set up.  He keeps a nice pace on the flats, but, his gearing isn't helping him much on the rises, which are prevalent on this section.  We flip flop positions for awhile, me passing on every upgrade, then being passed on the flats.  On a long incline I leave him quite a bit back.  The GS Parkway is just ahead.  The route has us turning on a parallel road named Poor Man's Parkway.  The name is appropriate as the road is toll free and riddled with pot holes.  None the less it is flat.  The fixed rider catches back up.  This time I amp up my cadence a bit to maintain his pace.  We stay together for the remaining miles arriving at the Pinelands school a little past 1:30pm.  I learn his name is Scott.  We are clearly early arrivers, as there are only about six bikes parked in the racks.  I notice one of my team mates, Dave F, is already there preparing to go out on the 15 mile optional power loop, which will end his day with an even 100 miles.  I'd come across him several times throughout the day.  Although, we never actually rode together for any amount of time.  Shortly thereafter Todd and Leslie arrive together.  Todd heads off to find the bus back to Long Branch.  As I'm waiting to board the first bus to my hotel,  Dave, the former Mayor, arrives.  I congratulate him on his effort to finish the ride, knowing what he must have gone through.   Once on the bus to LBI and my hotel I run the evening's plan through my head.  I need to clean up, do a light stretching routine and procure some food.  After which I'm hoping to get a good nights sleep for a  4:30am wake up.

Day Two

At 5:30 am I board the shuttle bus back to the school for the start of day two.  I enjoy a nice breakfast with Jim, Kathleen and some of the other members of Team Verizon Fios.  The team is consistently one of the top fund raisers participating in the ride.  After breakfast I ready my bike, which was conveniently stored overnight for me, and move outside for the start.  A small group sings the National Anthem followed by the tape cutting, signaling the official start.   I look around for my team, but see no one in the area.  Not knowing what else to do I start the ride.
Yours truly on the morning of day two.    photo by John
Immediately, we are in the pine barrens rolling southerly with a nice tailwind.  There is a slight chill in the air requiring me to use arm and knee warmers.  The overcast sky is consistent with the forecast.  Rain showers are a possibility for the afternoon.  I hope to be done by then.  I notice two riders are on my wheel, and the one directly behind me comments on my drive train.  He asks why I would choose to do this ride on a single speed.  Unfortunately, there is no good answer.  One would have to ride one to understand.  I pull out to ride alongside the guy.  His name is John, his friend, Rich, is new to cycling.  John is helping him to complete the ride.  Rich looks to be in good shape and seems comfortable on the bike.  I'm betting he makes it without too much difficulty.  John who speaks with a European accent has heard of Rannonuering, and, of the Paris-Brest Grand Randonee.  He's excited to hear that I've registered for the ride.  I take photos of the two of them before they pull into the first rest stop, which I opt to pass by.  We agree to look for each other at the finish. 
John and Rich in the Pine Barrens (Day Two)

A fast paceline just before the 48 mile rest stop (Day two)

Dave F, Team Verizon Fios (Day Two)
Riding on my own, I enjoy the quiet scenery of the region.  After a short while a group of three riders hooks on as I pass by.  We ride together for about 10 miles, enjoying some conversation, before they pull off in to a rest stop.  My target for the single rest stop I'll need is between 50-60 miles.  Until then I'm good to roll.  A fast group reaches me among them is Dave, from my team.  He is riding with some of the team Trane guys.  I amp it up and ride along for awhile, but it's not a pace I want to maintain long term.   One of the Trane guys gets dropped.  I back off and pull him along for awhile.  Finally, he fades more and drops off.  After crossing the bridge into Ocean City I come upon a rest stop at mile 46, which is billed as the lunch stop.  It's not quite 10:30 yet so I choose to keep going.  I have enough water for about 15 more miles. 

The roads on this section are familiar.  I've definitely ridden this way before on the NJ 600k.  There is ocean to my left and I'm still enjoying the wind at my back.  Other than a couple of riders, who are not part of the MS ride, I see no one around.  The two riders I see are a couple on vacation from Pennsylvania.  They ask me what ride I'm doing, having seen the number pinned to the back of my Jersey.  We ride for a few miles conversing until I make the turn for the Sea Isle City rest stop which is at the Ambulance Corps.  I pull in, noticing there are no other bikes in the racks.  I ask the volunteers if anyone else has been in.  They say I am the first.  They have only seen two riders a short time ago, who passed by without stopping.  I'm a little baffled how I could be so near the front of the ride.  I didn't think I was pushing that hard.  I refill my water, use the bathroom and head out just as three riders are pulling in. 

My Jamis Sputnik is the sole visitor to the Sea Isle City rest stop
My position near the front of the pack doesn't influence me in any way.  I maintain the same pace as before  spinning the pedals at a comfortable cadence.  After riding on my own for awhile the three riders I saw at the control catch up to me.  As they are passing by one of them invites me to join.  I decide to jump on.  It is more efficient to ride in a group.  They are keeping a brisk pace.  At times it is difficult to stay with them, as I need to spin so fast at the higher speeds.  I'm grateful for the many causeway bridges we encounter as the group slows down somewhat giving me a break from the high rpms.  As we near the finish the wind direction changes to either cross wind, or sometimes headwind.  This works well for me, as I am effective grinding through windy stretches.  I take the front through many of these sections.  No one has caught or passed us, although we do come upon two riders in the final five miles.  One of them, Mike, is from my town.  I've ridden with him once before.  Mike and his friend, a young man still in high school,  join us for the final miles to the finish.  The last push to the US Coast Guard Station on the Cape is the windiest section of all.  There is a crowd of volunteers to cheer us across the finish line.   When we arrive at the bike racks we learn that only two riders are there ahead of us.  Hundreds are still on the route working their way in.  As we head over to the elaborate food buffet we hear the cheer going up for more finishers.   This will be repeated many times over the next several hours.  In the meantime, it's time to reap the rewards of arriving early, no line at the food table.     
Steve and Ken E, two of the guys I finished with
Ken T. leading the group in the final twenty miles
The volunteers prepare a delicious plate of vegetarian food for me.  I enjoy eating in the company of my most recent riding companions Ken E, Ken T, and Steve.  After which, I wander around the large area looking for any of my team mates.  Also, keeping an eye out for Leslie who should be finished by now.  With all the masses of people, most who seem to have changed into street clothes, I don't recognize anyone.  Feeling a bit tired I decide to ride to the motel, which is a few miles away on the north side of the town.  I notice the first bus back to Monmouth University loading as I ride out of the Coast Guard Station.   I pull in to the quaint little motel at about 4pm.

My location for night two
Day Three - The Return

At 5am I depart the motel heading north on US 9 in darkness.  It is raining lightly, but the temperature is a comfortable 67 degrees.  There is very little traffic about.  The skies lighten quickly, but it remains overcast, although the rain has stopped.  I remain on US 9 to State Route 50, which will lead me into Egg Harbor City.   On Route 50 passing through Mays Landing I spot a McDonalds.  I've been looking to try their new oatmeal.  I pull in and am quickly enjoying a tasty bowl of the stuff.  Not on the level of the steel cut Irish oatmeal I eat at home, but it will do in a pinch. 

Pointing the way home
Recharged from the breakfast I continue to Egg Harbor City.  I ride right through the quiet town leaving to the north on Philadelphia Avenue, County Route 563, headed to Green Bank and the Pine Barrens.  The weather has warmed considerably with the sun making an occasional appearance.  The Pine Barrens region is very quiet on a weekday.  There is little reason for anyone to go there, other than recreation.  I enjoy the isolation while it lasts.  Soon I will be arriving in considerably more populated areas to the northeast.  True enough after about twenty miles I arrive at Waretown and US 9, which I travel north on for several unpleasant miles.  I begin following the MS Route in reverse at this point. I created a cue sheet to navigate from.  I stop at the Waretown Wawa to refill water.  After which I turn off US 9 winding my way around the lakes of Lacy Township, where former mayor Dave resides.   
Hmmm. Probably not reasonable to make a stop in AC
Taking in the scenery of the area

The Pine Barrens are as quiet as it gets in New Jersey
I decided to modify my return trip to the college by using the New Jersey Transit train for the last stretch from Bay Head to Long Branch.  While I would not have minded the miles I would need to pass through some very busy areas during the weekday rush hour. The other plus is using the train would get me to my car with enough time to be home for dinner.  Given this is my third day on the road being home at a reasonable hour seemed appropriate.   My target was to make the 2:06 train from the Bay Head train station arriving at the college by 3:00pm.

After working through a navigation problem just prior to Tom's River, I find my way to the bridge to cross into Seaside Heights.  It is a nerve racking mile or two, being buzzed by traffic traveling at very high speed, with no shoulder to use.  I'm relieved when I finally end up on Route 35 where it is also busy, but there is a usable emergency lane.  I'm keeping any eye on the time, and am becoming concerned about making the train.  I have about 110 miles behind me and about 10 left to cover.  With about 35 minutes left.  Given all the traffic lights through the shore towns it will be very tight.  I do my best to keep my average speed up, but am having difficulty as the roads are not in ideal condition through this section.  I'm dodging pot holes and broken glass.  I enter the town of Lavalette knowing that Bay Head is just a few towns further north.  I have about 15 minutes to make it.  After passing Normandy Beach I know that I just need to make it through the town on Mantoloking and I'm there.  There is six minutes left.  The area seems to have been flooded recently as there are road crews working on the sewers.  At one point just as I approach the town the road crew stops all the traffic to allow a big truck access to the work area.  With only a few minutes left I know I'll miss the train.  It will mean an hour and a half wait for the next one.  I find a nice coffee shop in Bay Head named Rockin Joe's, where I can relax for awhile.   A half hour before the scheduled train departure I ride over to the station.   The train is on time delivering me to Long Branch by 4:30.  I ride the three miles to the college locating my car in the lot.  Despite the missed train I am home in time for dinner.

The third day of riding added 125 miles to the event, putting my three day total over 300 miles.  While not the crazy total a Randonneuring event would deliver, it's a worthy accomplishment none the less. 


In many years of riding I've participated in very few charity events.  Which is something I feel badly about.  Cycling can be very self indulgent.  For sure, I've done my fair share of indulging.   I'm grateful for this opportunity to use the activity I love to do something for others.  Collectively, all the riders that gathered for this single MS event raised the better part of a million dollars.  The funds to be used for research and support for those with the disease.  That is a significant accomplishment.  One that will certainly make a difference.  It is more gratifying to have played a part in bringing that about than completing the ride.  Although, both have meaning to me.  I look forward to the chance to do this again.  I hope you will join me in the effort.  If not for this cause for another of your choice. Together we can really make a difference.


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